Authors: Susan A. Bliler
She struggled free and stood, exclaiming “What in the hell are you doing?” as she attempted to straighten her clothing.
Draken slowly stretched and yawned before giving her a grin and offering, “You looked so peaceful when I came in that I thought I’d join you.” He paused as he sat up then continued, “As a matter of fact, that’s probably the best damn nap I’ve had in years. Do you know that you talk in your sleep?”
Lucia blushed as she responded, “I do not. Why didn’t you wake me?” Looking up to scan her surroundings, Lucia’s eyes locked on the window that revealed darkness on the other side of its sheer curtain. “My God, what time is it?” she asked in a stunned tone as she looked down at her watch.
Draken stood and announced, “It’s 9:00.” He casually stretched and yawned as he watched Lucia staring at her wristwatch in disbelief. He chuckled as he heard her curse under her breath before he made his way over to the decanter on a side table and asked if she’d care for a drink as he filled himself a glass of the dark spirits.
Impatiently, Lucia snapped, “No. Look I’m here to find out why you’re having me blackballed on the circuit.”
Draken paused momentarily the lifted the rocks glass to his lips and drained its contents before he refilled it and casually answered, “I don’t know…”
Lucia cut him off, “You do know. I spoke to Callisto today. She won’t even sell me a car. She said no one will. I want to know why you’re doing this.” She stood facing him, while he turned his back on her.
He set his glass down and turned to face her, “As I was saying before you interrupted. I don’t know what else you’d expect me to do.”
Shocked, Lucia gasped as she cut in, “You admit it!” With furrowed brows, Lucia closed the distance between them stopping just a few steps in front of him, “Why Draken? Why would you do that to me?”
Without emotion, he looked down on her and replied, “You know damn well why.”
She glared up at him, “I know that you hate me, but I don’t think that’s cause for you to screw around with my livelihood.”
His expression darkened as he brushed past Lucia and threw over his shoulder as he exited the room, “You’re making me angry Lucia, so we’ll discuss this matter later. Dinner will be ready shortly. I suggest you head up to your room to freshen up.”
She quickly chased after him, “I’m not staying for dinner…I’m not staying for anything, and I DON’T have a room here.” Her argument was ignored as Draken ascended the long staircase without looking back. Still yelling into the empty foyer, Lucia turned and made for the door, “I just wanted you to know that you can’t stop me Draken, no one will!”
She jerked the door open and stepped out on the porch slamming the door behind her for emphasis. The lights from the manor cast a glow onto the now pitch black grounds as she stood fuming on the porch deciding if she wanted to swallow her pride, go back inside, and ask to use the phone to call a taxi, or walk the long distance back to the city. She wasn’t on the porch long before she heard a sound in the distance. Curious she attempted to peer further into the darkness. Recognition of the sound finally hit her,
Draken’s guard dogs were viscously barking and racing straight for her. She could just make out the gleam of sharp white teeth in the darkness. Instantly, she spun and quickly let herself back in the front door. She leaned against the door listening as the dogs approached the porch with their snarls and barks.
With her heart racing, it jumped even faster as she heard Draken’s amused voice at the top of the stairs, “As I said, dinner will be served shortly. If you’d like, you can freshen up in
room, if not feel free to tour the manor until dinner time.”
She glared up at his retreating back.
Standing on the balcony in “her” room, Lucia closed her eyes as the warm summer’s night breeze blew up into her face. With little else to do, she’d showered and changed her clothes. The long day of working left her famished, so she’d opted to take Draken up on dinner, also with her temper now slightly cooled she again wanted to broach the subject of him having her blackballed on the racing circuit.
She ran a brush through her long dark locks to allow the warm wind access. She’d never admit it to Draken, but she felt a sense of belonging at his manor.
She’d found her room exactly as she’d left it. Her clothes, toiletries, and cosmetics were all just as they’d been when she’d left. Stepping in off the balcony, she was greeted by a knock at the door. She offered an uncertain, “Come in.”
Patrick entered the room and cleared his throat before looking down his nose and stating, “Lord Shatan wonders if the lady would care for a pre-dinner cocktail.”
Toying with the pendant that dangled from a chain around her neck, Lucia decided she’d make the best of her dinner at Shatan Manor and smiled at the butler in front of her, “Patrick, I could murder a drink.”
Giving her a doubtful look, Patrick turned and stated seriously, “I do not condone murder Miss, but if you’ll follow me I shall take you to the den where Mr. Shatan awaits.” As Patrick exited the room, realization dawned on Lucia that he wouldn’t be bringing her a drink; she was expected to meet Draken in the den. She quickly ran to the mirror and smudged her lips with the pink lipstick that sat on the dressing table. She quickly finished brushing her hair and decided she didn’t have time to re-braid it. She brushed her cheeks with rouge then chased off down the hall to catch Patrick before he realized she wasn’t following him.
Lucia found Patrick stiffly strolling down the hall. She caught up as he came to an unexpected halt.
Running into the back of him, she offered a hurried, “Oh Patrick, I’m sorry. I wasn’t…I didn’t know…I…”
Patrick cut her off with a curt, “Yes Miss, I’m certain you did not.” Then he opened the door to an intimate den and as Lucia entered the room, Patrick closed the door behind her leaving her to familiarize herself with the room on her own.
She hadn’t seen most of Shatan Manor, as the majority of her first stay was spent healing in her bed. Her eyes scanned the room appreciatively.
One large window sat on the far side of the room. As with most rooms in the Manor, the windows were covered with long sheer curtains that seemed to constantly billow in an unforeseen wind. Large hand painted portraits of individuals covered each wall. Lucia slowly rounded the room, examining each portrait. She recognized Draken immediately; and although he looked younger in the portrait, she decided she liked his current appearance, with swipes of gray at each of his temples and hard lines set between his brows from what seemed to be an incessant scowl.
Crossing to the next mural, she realized that Nikolai and Draken were two very different individuals. When she’d met Nikolai he’d constantly donned a mischievous grin, which he also wore in his portrait; whereas, Draken rarely smiled.
She moved to the next mural, which she assumed was Draken’s father. The man staring back at her looked like a much older version of Draken. He was a handsome man, with a completely silver head of hair, and broad shoulders like his sons; he too offered no smile only a stern commanding gaze. Deep frown lines emphasized his thin-lipped frown. Next to that portrait was that of an elderly woman with exquisite features. Lucia realized that she, and what she assumed to be Draken’s mother, looked fairly similar. Like Lucia, the woman looking back at her had a thin straight nose, which sat above full, pouty lips. She had high cheekbones, dark eyes, and silky black hair that was streaked with silver. Lucia turned her head to scan the walls for remaining portraits and found only one. It sat atop the fireplace.
Crossing the room to stand before the portrait, Lucia was warmed by the slight fire that burned in the hearth. Starring up into the portrait of what she’d decided was the perfect mixture of Draken and his mother, Lucia guessed that the woman was Draken’s sister.
She heard a click and was startled from her thoughts as Draken entered the room. He wore dark slacks with dress shoes, and a form fitting, short-sleeved white shirt that enunciated his chiseled torso. He smiled at Lucia as he passed her to stand before a large bar that was set against a far wall.
She hoped he didn’t notice her sharp intake of breath as he strode past. His mere presence sent her heart racing.
Draken filled a rocks glass with ice and dark liquor before asking, “What can I get you?”
“Wine… please,” she responded quietly.
He filled a wine glass with a dark plum liquid before returning to stand before her. “I hope Merlot is fine,” he asked as he offered her the glass.
“It’s fine. Thank you.” She wasn’t used to sharing pleasantries with him and while it felt awkward, she had to admit that it also felt nice. “This must be your sister?” She queried with a smile as she again stared up at the portrait.
Draken, with glass in hand, turned to stand beside her as he too averted his head to study the portrait. There was a long silence before he answered, “Yes, she was.”
“Was?” Lucia lost her smile and turned her head to look up at Draken.
“Her name was Bella…Arabella Berlin Shatan. She died in a car accident three years ago.”
Lucia saw the pain in his eyes, and her own heart ached to reach out to him. Instead, she looked back up at the beautiful Arabella and offered a quiet, “I’m sorry.” They stood together in silence staring up at the portrait for several moments before she offered, “She’s beautiful.”
“She was.” Draken stated coldly as he turned and walked to a small oak table set for two nestled in a far corner of the room. “And there’s nothing for you to be sorry about. She had a wonderful life and now it’s over.”
Lucia turned to stare at Draken as he seated himself at the table. His clenching jaw muscle didn’t go unnoticed, but she decided not to press the matter any further. He looked up from the table and his eyes locked with hers. For several moments, he sat staring at her and she at him before she felt a flush creep up her cheeks. She quickly looked away and retreated to the bar to re-fill her already full glass.
With her back still to him, she heard his deep chuckle before he commanded, “Come. Sit. Dinner must be ready by now.”
She stalled for a moment longer by lifting her wineglass to her lips with a shaky hand.
Damn him for having this effect on me.
She turned with a none too convincing smile and made her way to the table. She held up her hand while shaking her head as Draken stood—as he did every time she were about to be seated.
Ignoring her protest, he stood and waited until she was seated before reclaiming his own seat. Silence hung in the air between them making the air thick. She opened her mouth to speak just as Patrick entered with a sterling cart totting two lidded plates.
“What are we having this evening Patrick?” Draken asked with a smile as he unfolded his white-linen napkin and placed it across his lap.
Patrick cleared his throat and stated very plainly, “Sir. This evening we are having roast duck with pear sauce, steamed asparagus, and fresh baked potatoes that were retrieved from the garden this very morning.”
Lucia quickly clamped a hand to her growling belly as her mouth salivated at the aromas wafting through the den.
Draken smiled up at her and offered a giddy, “Me too.”
Lucia smiled back as Patrick served them each a plate. Standing erect, Patrick asked, “Anything else at the moment Sir?”
Draken looked at his plate then looked quizzically over at Lucia who quickly shook her head. “We’re fine Patrick, thank you.”
Patrick offered a haughty, “Very well Sir” before exiting the room with the silver cart.
It was all Lucia could do to wait for the exchange between the two men to end before she took up her silverware and attacked her plate. Save for the soft whisper of the evening wind ruffling the curtains, Lucia and Draken ate in silence. Her dinner was as delicious as it smelled.
On several occasions, she looked up from her plate to catch Draken smiling across the table at her. “I’m not sure if I’m actually this hungry or whether I’m just gorging myself for the sheer pleasure of the taste,” she joked before taking a healthy drink of her wine.
Draken pushed himself back from the table and crossed the room to the bar returning with the large decanter of Merlot and re-filled her glass before re-claiming his seat.
“Thank you”, she murmured before popping a juicy pear into her mouth. Setting her utensils down, she took a drink of her merlot, before leaning back in her chair and staring quizzically at him.
Feeling her eyes upon him, he looked up from the succulent duck he was slicing and tilted his head while simultaneously lifting a questioning brow.
Lucia sighed and accused more than questioned, “You’re extremely lucky…do you know that?”
Draken sat back himself and queried tentatively, a smile broaching his lips as he wiped them with his white cloth napkin, “And just why is that?”
She waved a hand around the room, “This…all of this. I’d love to live like this, to eat like this, to be treated like this everyday. I’m not saying anything against you; I’m just saying that I hope you appreciate what you have.”
She leaned forward again taking up her utensils, before her actions were halted by his deep voice, “I am lucky in many respects. It is nice to live in the fashion I do, but I do lack what truly matters.”
Now it was time for her to raise questioning brows before she shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, “What’s that?”
“Love,” he simply stated.
Lucia felt heat stain her cheeks. She quickly tore her eyes from Draken’s as she lowered her head and concentrated too hard on slicing the roast duck on her plate.
“So how is it Lucia? To love and be loved in return?”
Without looking up, she stiffly replied, “I wouldn’t know.”
Much to her displeasure, he pressed the matter, “Is that because you don’t truly love Warren or because Warren doesn’t truly love you?”